The Medford Haitian Oral History Project

Evelyne Milorin: Strength, Persistence, and Ability

Evelyn Milorin is a heroine to many people within the handicapped community and among people who advocate for children with disabilities. She is also likely to be a heroine to anyone as soon as they hear her story. Her grandmother put it best when she quietly assessed what Evelyne had been able to do for her autistic son, and then what she made it her business to do for thousands of other autistic chidren, by fighting for their rights first at the State House here in Boston, and then nationally.

“I didn’t know you were that woman,” her grandmother said. What she meant was that she had no idea her granddaughter was in possesion of that kind of strength, persistence, and ability.

Evelyne left Haiti as a young bride when she married Henry Milorin. They came to Boston where he intended to become a dentist and she hoped to raise a family and become a nurse. At that time almost no one was familiar with autistm and that certainly included Evelyne.

Autism is a neurological condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts. It affects far more boys than girls and an autistic child today can usually be diagnosed by age three.

This was not the case in 1972 when the Milorins’ son Reggie was born. In Haiti in the 1970’s, if strange behavior was noticed over a lengthy period of time, and if a child who had been developing normally suddenly stopped speaking at age two, as Reggie did, the problem would most likely have been contributed to a bad spirit or a curse. In the United States no-ne was talking about curses but many of the ideas about what to do with Reggie were just as frightening.

Listen to these two short interviews with Evelyne Milorin, as she tells about a few crucial events in the first 20 years of Reggie's life. It’s a tale of professionals grasping in the dark, not knowing what was wrong with him, especially in his first eight years. And it’s a story of two parents who left no stone unturned and who had to reject the suggestions made by a panel of ten doctors at Children’s Hospital.
Evelyne_Milorin 1 Evelyne_Milorin 2

Who is this woman, Evelyne Milorin, with qualities even her grandmother could not have predicted? In 1970 she was the wife of an ambitious, determined man (see Henry Milorin’s page) who moved her from Haiti to Massachusetts. From 1970- 1972 she worked for two years in a laundry before becoming pregnant with Reggie, and then with her daughter Myrline.

Evelyne’s struggle to get the right kind of help and schooling for Reggie is told in her own words on the audio tapes. By the early 1980’s Evelyne was not only at Reggie’s schools all the time advocating for him, she was also at the State House in Boston advocating for all children with disabilities. She was, as well, designing underwear and diapers for older children with mental retardation and other problems, who still needed diapers. Here, too, Evelyne saw something that didn’t exist, so she came up with a solution.

Soon, Evelyne, along with her husband, began lobbying public officials such as Charles Shannon, Paul Donato, Ed Markey, Barney Frank and Ted Kennedy on many subjects related to their cause including better salaries for personal care assistants, such as the wonderful man who works with their Reggie to this day. Evelyne also joined the Association of Retarded Citizens, the Massachusetts Disabilities Governors Council and the Eastern Middlesex Association of Retarded Citizens, organizations which her husband belonged to as well.

The Milorins also belonged to the Family Support Program, a program for Haitian children with disabilities. It is run by the Haitian American Public Health Initiatives (HAPHI) in Mattapan. Evelyne made speeches for this group, designed educational evenings, and hosted radio shows.

Every time Evelyne approached a politician, or knocked on yet one more door, or stood up in front of 300 people to talk about children with disabilities, she used what she calls “the three P’s: Persistence, Politeness, and Persuasion.”

Her “three P’s” worked. She got results and she was recognized for her skills: Evelyne was given the prestigious Toussaint Louverture Award by HAPHI and she was presented with an award from the Massachusetts Senate for her “consistent legislative advocay work on developmental disability.”

By 2002 Evelyne was catapulted to the national stage when she won a Kennedy Fellowship in Washington, D.C. Soon she was selected as one of only four Kennedy fellows who would complete a fully paid internship in Washington in 2003. The project Evelyne worked on, in the Office of Special Education, was improving the educational curriculum for children with special needs who have English as their second language. She was one of a team of people working on a law called IDEA (Indiviuals with Disabilites Education Act) which they revised (from a 1970’s version) and which was then passed in 2004. This law ensures that children with disabilities have full access to an appropriate public education. While in Washington Evelyne also worked with dozens of agencies such as the Association for Retarded Citizens and the National Association on Autism.

After returning to Medford, from 2004 to 2008, Evelyne worked with Massachusetts Families Organizing for Change, Family to Family, Massachusetts Developmental Disability Council, and the DMR Statewide Family Support Council. She has served on the Board of Directors for The ARC of East Middlesex, the National Institute for Urban School Improvement, and the Autism Society of America. She was also awarded the Barbara Wilenski Gopen Fellowship

In 2007 she received a certificate from the Legislative Seminar for completing a three month training that any constituent can apply for. The participants learn the process how bills are filed and become laws. At the end, participant receive this certificate. “It is a great training,” Evelyne says, “for any citizen who wants to really understand the great process of democracy.”

In 2008 Evelyne received her Bachelor of Arts with a degree in Human Services and Legal Advocacy, and a minor in Gerontology from the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

In 2008 she was also appointed as a member of the Governor’s Commission on Intellectual Disabilities, and the Governor’s New Autism Commission, where she continues to serve at present.

In 2009-10 she was a LEND Fellow working as a leader (“Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities”) to eliminate disparity for people with disabilities. This program works in partnership with states’ legislators to facilitate access and to enhance quality health care and services for all people with disabilities. It was funded by Eunice Shriver Kennedy and the UMass Medical Center.
In 2013 Evelyne graduated with the degree of Master of Public Administration (MBA) from Suffolk University.

And what new projects is Evelyne involved with now? Here is the answer in her own words on November 5, 2013:

“I started a new position as an intern at the Brookline Department of Public Health on June 18, 2013. I am assigned to work with the Director of Human Relations who oversees several Commissions such as: Commision on Women, dealing with issues about civil rights, Commission on Disabilities, and Council on Aging. I am very involved working with these Commissions at the Department of Public Health and I am acquiring great knowledge especially on civil rights issues. I am a lifetime learner and not afraid to challenge myself by broadering my horizon. I always seize opportunities as they arise or when they knock at my door if they offer a chance for advancement, and for bettering myself. My mission is to be an example for the younger generation that isn’t too late to learn.”